(Picture courtesey of Chanly Bob)
It has been a while since I last blogged because I have been busy writing my memoirs “An American Rotarian Who Survived The Khmer Rouge Genocide”. However, I am inspired by my fellow Rotarian and friend Dale to write this blog.
Dr. Dale Canfield, DMD and his dental professional friends (such as Dr. Richard Park, DMD) have been volunteering with the Medical Team International (MTI) for years. Each year, they take two weeks off from their busy schedule and travel to Cambodia to help the Cambodian orphans with dental needs. Their effort includes dental cleaning, filling, extraction, education, etc.
Coming from Battambang (a province in Cambodia), I knew all too well about the poor dental health and the lack of dental health awareness. Until I came to the U.S. in 1979 after surviving the Khmer Rouge genocide, I never heard of dental floss. I never brushed during the Khmer Rouge. Before the Khmer Rouge, the number of my brushing can be counted on one hand. I lived with the excruciating toothache that many of these orphans are now experiencing. I came to this country with holes in my teeth – “cavity” is not a word strong enough to describe it. The silver fillings in my back teeth serve as a reminder of how far I have come and how fortunate I am today.
The effort of Dale and the other MTI folks to serve these Cambodian orphans has earned the ultimate gratitude from the Cambodian-American Community of Oregon (CACO) and of course my profound gratitude.
In addition to serving the orphans in Cambodia, Dale and MTI have helped CACO achieve one of its long standing dreams. CACO had a dream to send its youth to Cambodia as humanitarian volunteers. This dream was spawned from the community’s desire to teach its children the Cambodian heritage and traditional value of giving back. Today’s youth often forget how good we have it here. Going to Cambodia with the MTI team instills the values of service above self and appreciation for the good life here.
In 2006, Dale managed to raise enough fund to fulfill CACO’s dream. Dreaming was easy, but when the dream became a reality, CACO was met with the lack of courage. Sending a youth on his/her own to Cambodia was new and uneasy for the parents. I sent out a couple round of emails to the community, but no one responded. By the third round of email, a West View High School senior Sidhtara Tep responded to my email and expressed her interest (and worry about her safety and expense). With her parents’ permission, I invited her to the Rotary Club of Portland and introduced her to Dale. Dale handed her a plane ticket, and the rest was history as Sidhtara is now regarded in the community as the CACO youth pioneer to travel with the MTI team. Sidhtara is currently attending Stanford on a full scholarship (and most likely become a great dentist).
Sidhtara’s pioneering inspired two youth (Davin Mao and Sidney Tan) to travel with the team this year. As a believer in the Fibonacci’s Rabbits, I am optimistic that at this rate, MTI and CACO will see greater number of CACO youth make the future trips. That would be the extraordinary force that makes the world a better place, one youth at a time.
For your pleasure and inspiration, on behalf of CACO, I invite you to browse the pictures of the recent trip made by Davin, Sidney and the MTI dental team (courtesy of Chanly Bob) and watch the community welcome back the team from Cambodia (You Tube courtesy of David Lim).
Thank you for reading this blog. Your reading and sharing this story make you a part of a force that makes the world a better place, one person at a time.